Important Update to the Office of Zoning Operations During the COVID-19 Emergency

As reported in this blog, on March 20, 2020, the District of Columbia’s Zoning Commission (the commission) and the Board of Zoning Adjustment (the BZA) suspended all public hearings and public meetings.

But, in a glimmer of positive news, the District’s Office of Zoning has announced that the Commission and the BZA will start virtual public meetings this month. The commission’s first virtual meeting will be on April 27, and the BZA’s first virtual meeting will be on April 29. All virtual meetings will be held via WebEx, and the Office of Zoning’s website says that “instructions on how to join will be made available in the coming days.”

Under the Zoning Regulations, the commission and the BZA conduct public meetings for the sole purpose of making decisions. No testimony is requested or taken during public meetings.   

The resumption of commission and BZA public meetings is an important step toward continuing the development process in the District. During public meetings, the commission can approve or set down PUDs, map amendments, and text amendments. Similarly, the BZA can approve pending variance and special exception applications, as well as decide whether to grant appeals. 

After the decisions are issued by the ZC or the BZA, then applicants can take the appropriate next steps, including filing building permit applications. 

So far, the Office of Zoning is only committing to virtual public meetings. Therefore, public hearings, when testimony is given and cases are presented, are still suspended. Even with this caveat, Cozen O’Connor is encouraged by this step.   

Also yesterday, the District’s Office of Planning (OP) filed Zoning Text Amendment application No. 20-07 in order to extend by six months the validity period of all ZC and BZA orders that would have expired between April 27, 2020, and December 31, 2020 (the Immediate Extension ZTA). 

OP has requested that for the Immediate Extension ZTA be treated as an “Emergency Action” at the ZC’s April 27, 2020, “virtual meeting.” While there is a possibility of a public meeting, we expect the ZA will approve immediate publication of the required Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, fast tracking approval.

As written, the Immediate Extension ZTA would extend by six months the validity period of any Commission and BZA approval that was set to expire between April 27, 2020, and December 31, 2020. 

So, if an order is supposed to expire on May 1, 2020, that date would be extended out by six months. This gives a developer or property owner an additional six months to file a building permit application or take other actions to keep an approval valid. 

This is an important development, and Cozen O’Connor will continue to monitor it.

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Real Estate, Zoning & Land Use

Cozen O’Connor has represented residential, commercial, retail, and industrial builders in the development and redevelopment of building lots and millions of square feet of real estate. Our team handles every aspect of the zoning, land use, and development approvals process, from obtaining building permits and variances to negotiating stormwater management and traffic plans.

Head of the DC Zoning Group & Blog Editor